If your team isn’t intentionally fighting to move uphill, it inevitably slides down, according to John Maxwell. Team leader Carl Medford breaks down the keys to moving your team forward from Maxwell’s “The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork.”

In September, Inman digs deep on real estate teams — what it takes to join or build one, how to optimize a team and even when to consider leaving one. Adding nuance on top of Inman’s weekly Teams Beat email newsletter, this theme month will serve up top insights from the best team leaders across the country.

John Maxwell, an author and speaker who often talks about leadership, writes in The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, “Most teams don’t naturally get better on their own. Left alone, they don’t grow, improve, or reach championship caliber. Instead, they tend to wind down. The road to the next level is always uphill, and if a team isn’t intentionally fighting to move up, then it inevitably slides down.”

Maxwell continues, “The team loses focus, gets out of rhythm, decreases in energy, breaks down in unity, and loses momentum. At some point, it also loses key players. And it’s only a matter of time before it plateaus and ultimately declines into mediocrity.”

The solution? Again, quoting Maxwell, he declares, “That’s why a team that reaches its potential always possesses a catalyst.”

One of my boyhood heroes, Douglas Bader was one such catalyst. As written about in the book (later made into a film) Reach for the Sky, during World War II, as Germany geared up to bomb England into submission, Bader characterized the can-do attitude and transformed a ragtag group of pilots into one of the UK’s premier fighting units.

In a historical segment written for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Bader stepped into the squadron leader role and, driven to be the best, focused on getting the 242nd squadron back into fighting condition. And fight they did.

Bader’s leadership transformed the fighting group and, led by his impressive prowess as a pilot, racked up an impressive record against the German Luftwaffe over France. In a brief two-year period, Douglas was credited with 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probables, one shared probable and 11 enemy aircraft damaged.

Unfortunately, he himself was shot down in 1941 and captured by the Germans. His story did not end there, however. As a POW, he managed to escape, was recaptured, and over the next few years of imprisonment, led a number of escape attempts. He so frustrated his German captors that they finally took away his legs. While that may sound strange, it reveals a remarkable fact about Douglas Bader: He had no legs.

Injured in an almost fatal plane crash in Dec. 1931, Douglas, although he survived, lost both legs. Forced to give up flying, he refused to call it a day. When Britain declared war on Germany in Sept. 1939 and the call went out for pilots, he convinced the RAF that he could still fly. Not long after, he was in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire fighting to save the UK.

Maxwell, defining “catalysts,” explains they are “what I call get-it-done-and-then-some people.” Bader certainly qualified. “A newspaper report of one visit quotes him as saying, ‘Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything … never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”

David Cameron, Former British Prime Minister, agreed, calling Bader his life hero.

“This was a pilot who lost both legs in a flying accident, yet resolved to get back into the RAF. He spent the rest of his life helping disabled people and touring the world to speak about his experiences. He continued working right up until his death.” Cameron continued, “I can’t think of a life story more packed with courage and fortitude — and it should inspire pride in every single Briton.”

It certainly inspired Queen Elizabeth who, in 1976, knighted Bader for his tireless service of the country’s disabled.

With the real estate market in such terrible shape, success for any real estate team depends on having a catalyst onboard. Maxwell outlines the nine characteristics that define effective catalysts:

1. They are intuitive

They tend to see things others might miss. For Douglas Bader, World War II was not only an opportunity to redeem past tragedy but to inspire others. Following up on the loss of morale after the early defeat of Allied forces and subsequent evacuation at Dunkirk, he quickly motivated the demoralized pilots of the 242nd and, seeing their potential when they could not, galvanized them into one of the top flying units in the Battle of Britain.

On a real estate team, catalysts can sense opportunity when others are moaning about current conditions. Whether a new lead generation tactic or untapped opportunities, they have a nose for potential business that can motivate the rest of the team.

2. They are communicative

Winston Churchill was one such catalyst. He took his mastery of the English language and used it as a weapon against the Axis forces by galvanizing the British nation into action and fortifying their resolve. Maxwell states, “Anytime you see a team of people suddenly turn around or crank their play up to another layer, you’ll see someone on the team talking, directing, inspiring others.”

On a real estate team, a catalyst is one who can rally the crew, transform attitudes and fortify resolve, especially in tough markets.

3. They are passionate

Passion fuels success. Those without passion will never find themselves in the winner’s circle. In Bader’s case, he refused to allow his lack of limbs to dictate what he could or could not do. Shortly after his accident, he strapped on his replacement “tin legs” and, through intense pain, set out to regain his life.

He resolved to learn to dance and play golf. Although his first golf swing left him lying on his back, through extensive practice, he ended up with a handicap of only four. That fiery enthusiasm and desire to clear the skies of the enemy quickly transferred to his previously demoralized squadron, who began racking up victories at an unprecedented rate.

This is the same passion that was evidenced in Winston Churchill who, at the darkest hour of the war declared:

“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.”

On a real estate team, a catalyst is one whose enthusiasm even in the most difficult of markets keeps the rest of the group motivated to keep going.

4. They are talented

It is one thing to have enthusiasm, it is another to actually have talent and skill. Talent is an innate ability based upon how we are constructed: some people are simply better designed to be a football lineman than a running back. Skill, on the other hand, comes from extensive coaching, training and practice.

Bader became an expert golfer against all odds because of his refusal to accept the supposed limitations of his handicap. Once captured, he astonished his captors when they discovered that he had tin legs: in their minds, there was no way he should have been able to fly a plane, let alone be one of England’s highest aces.

Not only are catalysts high performers themselves, but they lift others to success as well. Bader’s extensive training and can-do attitude, when directed at the demoralized 242nd squadron, soon showed amazing results.

On a real estate team, a catalyst is one who uses their talent and success to begin training others to succeed as they have done.

5. They are creative.

Catalysts are frequently at the head of the pack looking for new, innovative ways to succeed. Upon arriving at the 242nd, Douglas Bader began looking for better ways to deal with the enemy. Whereas previous tactics dictated that pilots attacked one pilot at a time, Bader introduced the “Big Wing” tactics in which multiple squadrons would take off, form up and attack as a single unit. While controversial, the results of Bader’s squadron cannot be denied.

After being shot down — some think by friendly fire — Douglas turned that creativity into attempts to escape. Succeeding the first time, he was soon recaptured but continued to try.

He used his hollow legs in two innovative ways: first, to smuggle food from sympathetic locals into the camp and second, to haul out dirt from an escape tunnel they were digging. He became such a thorn in his captor’s side that they finally transferred him to a more secure facility and subsequently deprived him of his legs.

On a real estate team, a catalyst is one who is continually seeking new and more effective ways to help buyers and sellers realize their real estate dreams.

6. They are initiators

While a person with normal legs can easily flex to climb into a Spitfire’s diminutive cockpit, Bader’s tin legs presented a challenge. Pictures show him climbing into his plane by lifting his legs one at a time to get them into place, something he practiced continuously until he could do it quickly.

Douglas was working hard to find an innovative way to get it done; he took his innate creativity and propelled things forward with initiation.

On a real estate team, catalysts initiate by showing up: They are there for script practice, they make the required calls, pound on doors, continuously build their database, and do not let anything get in the way of the behaviors required to build a successful real estate practice. They also motivate others on the team to do the same.

7. They are responsible

Bader believed that if positive results were going to happen, it was up to him to deliver. For this reason, even in captivity, he continuously pushed those around him. This was not only evidenced throughout the war, but showed up in peacetime as he used his disability to motivate those who had lost limbs in various ways.

His efforts were recognized by Queen Elizabeth who knighted him in 1976. Winston Churchill also knew that the fate of Britain rested on his shoulders, and he stepped up and claimed responsibility. In his speech to the House of Commons upon his being accepted as Prime Minister, he declared, “I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.'” He accepted responsibility and then, over the following years, delivered on his promise.

On a real estate team, catalysts, in the words of John Maxwell, “carry things that others do not carry.” If results are required, they own the behaviors and deliver the metrics required to get the job done.

8. They are generous

Bader could have chosen, after the war, to focus solely on his career with Shell Oil. Instead, he chose to seek out those with disabilities like his own and provide motivation for them to succeed.

In 1957, he was quoted as saying, “I was lucky in the war, and got much publicity not because I was any better than the others but because I was the chap with the tin legs.” Rather than bask in the glory he had achieved, he took what had been given to him and passed it forward to others in need.

On a real estate team, catalysts give of themselves tirelessly to motivate others on the team to succeed. Instead of focusing entirely on themselves, they continuously, generously give to others.

9. They are influential

After the war, Bader was nationally recognized as a war hero. Even though he was only in the air a short time, by war’s end, he came in fifth amongst RAF pilots for the number of enemy planes downed.

As a result, Douglas was chosen, flying his Spitfire, to be the leader of a formation of 300 planes over London to celebrate the end of the conflict. He continued to use his influence and fame to help others, working for charities such as Britain’s limbless veterans’ association, Blesma.

On a real estate team, catalysts use their influence to pave the way for others on the team. Instead of focusing on themselves, they use their influence to create a better world for those around them. In an age where the majority of people focus only on themselves, catalysts center their attention on bringing others around them along for the ride.

A real estate team may have many talented individuals, but if there is no catalyst, there is no one to inspire the others and lead them to success. Quoting Maxwell, “Winning teams have players who make things happen.”

When building a team, if you as the team leader are not the catalyst, your top priority should be to go and find one, get them on the team and then empower them to lead the charge up the hill to the next level of success.

Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.

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